Pitkin County elected officials have scheduled a closed-door meeting with their attorney this afternoon to discuss Colorado’s medical marijuana regulations.
County officials have been silent on the issue since June, when the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners decided not to write any rules governing medical marijuana locally.
Government staffers had spent months writing codes to regulate marijuana shops and grow operations within the county. They dropped the plan at the urging of County Attorney John Ely, who said local government officials could be subject to criminal prosecution under federal drug laws, which still consider pot illegal, if they wrote code pertaining to it.
Today’s executive session may have resulted from state regulators asking local governments to approve pot-related businesses in their jurisdiction. Doing so could open county officials to legal exposure similar to Ely’s concerns about writing the scuttled local rules.
Since the county did not enact its own codes, the local marijuana business is governed solely by state regulations.
Meetings on the code drafts were held in public sessions. Today’s private meeting is being held under a state statute that allows public officials to exclude the public “for the purposes of receiving legal advice on specific legal questions.”
Ely said Monday that he would be updating the commissioners on laws relating to marijuana.
Attorney Lauren Maytin, who provides legal assistance to providers in Aspen and statewide, said the Colorado Department of Revenue’s medical marijuana division has begun asking counties to approve local marijuana businesses, in order for them to keep their state licenses.
She said the county is likely using today’s meeting to weigh whether they should officially acknowledge local marijuana businesses. Maytin urged them to do so.
“It would be a shame if Pitkin County is so cowardly not to realize they are here to uphold state law,” she said. “And that their community supports canna-business. People here have a lot of need.”
Rachel Richards, chair of the commission, said Ely placed the item on the agenda and the board did not call specifically for a meeting on marijuana. The county attorney routinely sets the commissioners’ agendas for executive sessions, from which the public is excluded.
“It will probably be some kind of update on the state’s licensing rules,” Richards said.
The discrepancies between state and federal laws for the drug have been a concern to lawmakers, as well as medical marijuana providers. Its medical use was made legal in Colorado by a statewide vote in 2000, and dispensaries have proliferated in the Aspen area since 2009, but federal prohibition has gone unchanged.
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) asked Attorney General Eric Holder about the federal enforcement issue at a hearing on Capitol Hill last week. Polis’ district includes Boulder and the Eagle County portion of the Roaring Fork Valley.
In light of recent federal raids on medical marijuana operations in California, Polis asked if Colorado could expect any similar crackdowns. He noted that Colorado has enacted more effective rules than California regulating the drug’s distribution for medical patients.
“I’d like to ask whether our thoughtful state regulation ... provides any additional protection to Colorado from federal intervention,” he was quoted as saying in news reports.
Holder responded that enforcing federal drug laws against people who are complying with state laws would “not be a priority” for the U.S. Department of Justice.
Jim Schrant, a federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agent based in Grand Junction whose jurisdiction includes Pitkin County, made no such promises Monday.
Schrant said he has had no contact with Pitkin County officials regarding medical marijuana regulations or enforcement of federal drug laws here. But he stressed that marijuana, in the eyes of the DEA, remains an illicit drug.
“Colorado has its own medical marijuana provision and each county has its own follow-ups on that,” Schrant said. “But federally it is still illegal. The federal government’s position remains the same: Marijuana and the sale of marijuana is illegal per federal law and we have not wavered on that position.”